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OP-ED: Big Bird and Big Government

Former County Executive Steve Levy feels the media missed the point on Mitt Romney's "Big Bird" comment.

There was much to talk about after the first Presidential debate on October 3. Public polls showed that most believe Romney to be the victor in this first of three debates. There was talk about the President’s sluggishness and Romney’s vigor, but some in the liberal media could not help themselves but to give equal time to a debate within a debate: the fate of Big Bird.  

At one point in the debate, Romney in an attempt to exhibit specific areas where he would save on government costs, told the moderator of his intentions to cut subsidies to public television and its programs, including the beloved Sesame Street.

By the next morning, a liberal cable news program gave just as much time to bashing Mitt Romney’s mention of the Big Bird cut, as it did to the fact that his success in the debate was the biggest game-changer to date in this long Presidential race.  There was very little for the left to crow about from the aftermath of the debate and so, an entire 10-minute segment was dedicated to how Mitt Romney was the mean, insensitive Republican benefactor of the rich who would dash the hopes and dreams of America’s youth by cooking Big Bird.  

How did we know such a cut would be so devastating?  Well, the moderator simply asked the spokesperson for what else, but National Public Radio.  Now there is objective analysis if I ever saw it.  What does anyone expect a representative for NPR to say other than the cut of even a dime to their corporation would lead to disarray and a major national catastrophe?

This type of segment not only underscores the deep liberal bias in the media in its attempts to paint Republican initiatives as being insensitive and bad for the country, but just as importantly underscores how America’s finances got into this horrible predicament in the first place.  You see, every special interest thinks that theirs is indeed special and should be immune to any type of belt-tightening.  "Oh, just a little bit more for us please; it is such a small amount that will hardly be felt."  Well, when multiplied by hundreds of thousands of agencies throughout the land, pretty soon this stuff starts adding up into big money.  It is the same concept whether it is the Federal government, the state, the county or your local school board; "just a little bit more won’t hurt."  That may be so if looked at in a vacuum, but cumulatively it could lead to a budget implosion.

The overriding question is this: why in the world is taxpayer money going toward funding a television or radio program in the first instance?  One could try to have made this case decades ago when there were a total of seven channels, but today there are hundreds of channels available to the viewing public.  

It is both ridiculous and just plain wrong for the NPR spokesperson or the moderator and her media colleagues to suggest that the de-funding of public television would lead to the end of Big Bird or  Sesame Street. Sesame Street is a huge conglomerate.  If it is not aired on PBS, it will find a home at any number of other channels that would welcome its ratings potential. The market can't be ignored.

One way or another Sesame Street and Big Bird will be around for another generation. The only questions is whether over 400 million in taxpayer dollars will continue to subsidize such programming when there is no need to do so. The free spending crowd will say: "don't cut me, cut the program behind the tree." The more fiscally responsible crowd will say that that $400 million could go to people's basic needs that would otherwise not be met.

Steve Levy is President of Common Sense Strategies, a political, governmental and business consulting firm. He served as Suffolk County Executive from 2004-2011. The opinions expressed here are his own.

Underdog October 11, 2012 at 02:44 PM
The media didn't "miss" the point as much as they intentionally misdirected it to take focus away from the fact that the President got his butt kicked in the debate.
Jason Feinman October 11, 2012 at 03:06 PM
More lies from Romney and Repuklicons like Levy who want to perpetrate the myth of reining in spending or allocating it properly when they are going to increase defense spending and for what? Such BS and no one with half a brain should buy it. Not only that, but it is another attack on children and education and more, not less money needs to go toward that. There is one word for Romney and Republicans, sorry two:DOUCHE BAGS!
majortom1981 October 11, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Come on . It shows the fact that Romney rather cut .01 percent of the nations debt from educational programs then cut the defense budget. You can pay for everything else by cutting the defense budget in half. It shows what Romney actually thinks. Heck he can save the funding of PBS by telling the defense contractors to not by a new tools for one year. The republicans are scared of pbs because they have the only non bias news program on American tv. My father used to work for Grumman so I know how they operate.
jonathan October 11, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Big Bird will be fine without government support. They nailed me for $55 to go to sesame place, adults and children same price, including my 1 year old.
John K Massaro October 11, 2012 at 03:16 PM
I think this is worth a re-post. We're not talking about "either or" here, we're talking about cutting one to needlessly serve the other. Romney's not looking to SAVE that PBS money, he's just looking to channel...it someplace else. He want's to cut the miniscule percentage (one-hundredth of a percent of federal expenditures) the Government sends to PBS. Money he claims we're "borrowing from China". Yet, he's looking to boost military spending to the highest level in 60 years. Money that the military isn't even asking for! The 10 nations with the biggest defense budgets spend more than $1 trillion a year on thier military. Americans shell out 60% of that amount. In other words, the United States spends more than everyone else COMBINED. In a major foreign policy speech Monday, Romney stated he plans on supporting the rebels in Syria's civil war. He would equip the rebels with heavy weapons to take out "tanks, helicopters & fighter jets," according to the remarks. Weapons that could very well end up in terrorist hands. (Remember when we armed the Afghanis against the USSR? How'd that work out for us?) He wants to basically cut down on educational programs on PBS so he could arm Syria for their civil war? "If reining in excessive military spending cannot be part of the budget balancing equation, then bulldozing Sesame Street is a pointless exercise that will do exactly nothing to stop American borrowing from China or head off fiscal calamity". - Los Angeles Times
Diana October 11, 2012 at 03:20 PM
If President Obama and the Dems do not even want to cut subsidies to a Big Bird making millions where will they want to cut? Big Bird should be the Mascot for the Democrats, representing the BIG GOVERNMENT that they want.
John Gruber October 11, 2012 at 03:34 PM
it's not just the fact he's cutting it, he wants to use the same money to increase our defense, so "China" is either paying for PBS or our defense
John Gruber October 11, 2012 at 03:36 PM
it be one thing if he wants to cut it entirely, but he just wants to move the money PBS gets to defense spending. So either way "China" is paying for something unless you cut it entirely.
John Gruber October 11, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Hey Levy, cutting money from PBS to increase defense spending isn't "saving on government costs" genius. it's called reallocating costs. you're still spending that money either way. and you have the nerve to talk about "liberal bias", you're a joke
Kelly Glancy Mandia October 11, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Both parties have missed the bigger picture here and the media is feeding into it. Apparently, it's ok for government to give billionaires and multi-billion dollar oil companies tax breaks, but it's not ok to support a children's television program whose funding pales in comparison. I guess if big oil were lining my pocket and paying for my campaign, I deflect and go after Big Bird, too.
James T. Ryder October 11, 2012 at 04:37 PM
Jason... a subsidie comes from your pocket and mine. A PROFITABLE company doesn't need subsidies. Sesame Street, like Mr. Levy pointed out, is a marketing success. Cookie Monster himself could make plenty; putting that purple dinosaur to shame. Don't make a fool of yourself by coupling everyone together; I wouldn't even describe Mr. Levy as Republican (or 'con as you said). He's more of a 'get'em where I can' kind of guy - as history has shown us. We are a nation in financial straits and the 'new guy' is suggesting the last four years haven't worked, you and I are NOT better off and we need to cut where we can - if we can cut millions, yes millions from Sesame Street in order to bring us back to the black then that's his suggestion.
James T. Ryder October 11, 2012 at 04:43 PM
and by the way... I can't help but mentioning here that the 'left' keeps pointing out the oh-so-important fact that the cut Mr. Romney is suggesting for the big yellow bird is just a mere .01%. It's actually more like 1% but if that's your point then let me ask 'you guys' this question. When it comes to the closely guarded rights of abortion and your argument is 'what about rape and incest?' The numerical fact is less than 1% of abortions are because of Rape and Incest (two horrific crimes I must add) then I guess you'll agree you're makng a silly argument. No?
John K Massaro October 11, 2012 at 04:44 PM
James, we're talking about PBS here. The Public Broadcasting Station. Sesame Street is one of MANY programs on that network. The money doesn't go directly to SESAME STREET, it goes to PBS. You might want to take a look at this link... http://www.pbs.org/programs/
James T. Ryder October 11, 2012 at 04:54 PM
@John K Massaro. Well, since you're going off the ranch Mr. M let me point out one other entity enjoying that money... NEA. The same NEA that promotes a jar, filled with Urine and has a Crucifix with Jesus on it soaking in that jar. They call that Art and they too profit from these subsities. You don't have to remind me who is getting these millions, I'm well aware. But thank you just the same. @Kelly. I don't propose cuts for Oil or anybody that is profitable. Big Bird would be snatched right up by NBC, or CBS or even Cable - it's a huge money maker. THAT is why the mention. It's PROFITABLE SO WHY ARE WE GIVING IT MONEY? Kids love donuts, should be be giving subsidies to Dunkin Donuts? Where does it end? THAT is the point you accuse others of missing.
John K Massaro October 11, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Again James, you're singling out the one profitable show out of hundreds on that network. How many other programs will suffer from these cutbacks? How many other programs won't be picked up by other networks? How many other people will be out of jobs when that does happen? PBS is more than just channel 13. Look at the big picture James, not just the Big Bird...
James T. Ryder October 11, 2012 at 05:07 PM
So <<I'M>> pointing out just one? Seems like the left is pointing out 'children's program', not me. Why don't you name the others, I know who they are but I'll be interested in hering your defense of them. Your turn...
John K Massaro October 11, 2012 at 05:17 PM
Whoa, James! Take it easy! About a 9 on the tension scale there, Rube! Might I suggest de-caf? When you get your heart rate down to an acceptable level, you might want to check the link I'll provide AGAIN. But I will say that it was ROMNEY who mentioned "Big Bird", NOT the left... http://www.pbs.org/programs/
James T. Ryder October 11, 2012 at 05:47 PM
LOL That's always the issue of online comments/e-mails etc. Unless you type LOL every five minutes it's assumed you're angry. I'm not, honest. I enjoy a good debate and try my darnedest to never offend anyone; unless facts are considered to be arrows - if you will. :-) BTW, I'm a one-cup-a-day kinda guy, but who knows. Yes, you're right that Romney mentioned what I consider a good point. but... it is the left who are trying to make it a 'poor kid can't watch big bird and romney's evil' etc. etc. He made the valid point that we need to cut where possible and a company that can make great money without getting free $$ from you and I should be donig just that. I love myself, I love you and I am OK, OK? LOL :-)
K. October 11, 2012 at 05:58 PM
I would actually like to see Oscar the Grouch's tax returns...
Underdog October 11, 2012 at 06:23 PM
John, last I heard it was Obama's campaign that had hired a guy to shadow Romney's campaign stops in a yellow Big Bird costume. Obviously someone at the DNC feels that's the one show that will resonate with voters. And nobody has claimed we're borrowing money from China to fund PBS. What Romney said during the debate was that his guideline for deciding on funding would be "is it something worth borrowing money from China to pay for", PBS was an example of something he felt wasn't. He only mentioned Big Bird in passing, "Don't get me wrong, I like Big Bird"... he also said he liked Jim Lehrer, but I haven't read any campaign rebuttals focused on poor old Jim.
Scott A Mandia October 11, 2012 at 09:00 PM
Romney wanting to cut funding to PBS while he insists our tax dollars keep flowing to ExxonMobil ($2 billion profit per month) is like complaining about a splinter while doing everything possible to keep the blood gushing from the broken artery. Do not like subsidies? Fine. Want to balance the budget? Great. But at least begin with cuts to those that need our "help" the least - the billionaires, and not educational television.
Dave M. October 11, 2012 at 09:30 PM
While we're on the subject of subsidies, how about cutting the subsidies for ethanol? Ethanol saves no energy overall by the time the processing and transportations costs are added in. It destroys small engines in boats, lawnmowers, etc, etc. It also raises food prices in the US and worldwide because so much corn goes to ethanol production instead of into the food supply of people and livestock. This is a program ripe for termination.
Genevieve pychewicz October 11, 2012 at 10:12 PM
why didn"t Leavy run fo4r pres. he always knew and still does know about people....has done a fine job and always will.....in suffolk county....wher i used to live...for many many years...when horse block farmers to market,,,portion roade was just a two lane road....and where we had three bars and two gass stations....no high school....just waverly......a hamlet of farmingville......one small wooden fire dept....but since he hade taken office.....Farmingvill in nice beautiful town.....we also had a small shopping store...Sandys Pick and Pack....and the butcher.....yes i feel that Levfy could do the job we need to have done........Genevieve
GM October 11, 2012 at 11:15 PM
The debate was a non-event, therefore the attraction to the stupid comment about Big Bird. How dumb can he get. Romney was talking turkey but won't put his proposals in writing so we can read them. With all the chatter the only damn thing he can get specific about is eliminating PBS!
former kper October 11, 2012 at 11:58 PM
the truth is that budget cuts have to be made. if your household income is not enough for that you have to choose between food for your children or a night at the movies, i would hope your choice would be food.instead of using the tv as a babysitter, try reading to them. and ANY increase in defense spending is for your safety. do you remember 9/11 we are still at risk
Marion Knott October 12, 2012 at 03:59 PM
As an old timer I can remember when Levy and Veccio were both Democrats. The last presidential debate was horrid for Obama. The only fun part was Big Bird. Get over it. TV shows have become so terrible that about the only shows worth watching are on PBS. I don't see politics there, thank Goodness, just good television.
confectioner October 12, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Sesame Street is a cash cow for the endless educational programs on PBS, it could well stand on it's on but licensing funds from Sesame are used to support programs that teach math, science, history and the arts. How a short-sighted a politico can say this does not benefit American public is beyond me.
NuYawker October 12, 2012 at 06:58 PM
Mr. Ryder. you're misplacing your decimal points, go a couple to the right. Internet reports anywhere between 0.008% and 0.014%. Either way, a small number (much smaller than 1%). Romney's real problem with CPB is that their news organizations are not beholden to outside money (advertising) to the same extent that all other TV-delivered news is - not happy that they can't control the message.
NuYawker October 12, 2012 at 07:04 PM
To do a comparison, if the whole budget was $50K, CPB only costs $7. That's 'noise' in the DOD budget. The point is, if Mr. Romney really cared about cutting said budget, he'd look elsewhere, and not target the only last remaining propaganda-free news outlet.

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